New Ways to Expand Footage Hear the word "basement" and images of a light-filled art gallery, generous walkout patio, and multiple entertainment and personal passion spaces are probably the last to leap to mind. But with lot sizes shrinking--even for seven-figure custom homes--folks aren't willing to sacrifice their home theaters and wine rooms without exploring some radical options.

For a growing number of wealthy desert-dwellers, the basement is the perfect antidote ... provided it doesn't look or feel anything like a basement. "The loft design and a basement are almost contradictory, says Borsanyi, "unless it's done this way."

"This way" is accomplished by throwing plenty of natural light below grade, from the open risers of the staircase (angled to gain exposure from the west-facing windows and patio doors on the main level), to a generous light well at the end of the gallery and most dramatically from a deep patio garden walkout from both bedroom suites that accesses the waterfront dock area with a wide set of concrete steps.

The mirror-image, lower-level suites offer the owners myriad possibilities, from guest bedrooms to a game room, home office, yoga room/gym, or art studio. Each suite provides access to a generous walk-out patio and the waterfront.
James F. Wilson The mirror-image, lower-level suites offer the owners myriad possibilities, from guest bedrooms to a game room, home office, yoga room/gym, or art studio. Each suite provides access to a generous walk-out patio and the waterfront.

The two suites are, in fact, yet another example of the loft's flexibility-as-durability concept. With respect to the target market of empty- and never-nesters, the two-story distance between the master and secondary bedrooms indicates, at best, truly private guest or in-law quarters more so than kids' rooms; more likely, even those functions will share space with an owner's office or studio, game or billiard room, quiet hobby space, home gym (especially with a dedicated full bath and outdoor access), or any number of uses depending on what the occupants need at any given time.

But that's only half the basement. The other side is pure entertainment space, including a fully equipped (if modestly scaled) home theater, extensive wine cellar with adjacent wet bar, powder room, and an accessible, well-equipped utility room housing everything from the laundry equipment to a jetted sink, Web-enabled home controls, and dual sump pumps (just in case). "Putting these functions below grade allows the owners to get the living spaces they want above grade," says builder Bart Jones. "It's a fairly inexpensive way to add footage."

A basement offers the perfect setting for a home wine cellar, providing the stability, climate control, and other critical conditions for optimum storage.
James F. Wilson A basement offers the perfect setting for a home wine cellar, providing the stability, climate control, and other critical conditions for optimum storage.

Product Specs: Basement Specials

* The residential elevator, supplied by American Access Systems, enables owners to age in place and still enjoy all three levels of the house.

* The wine storage system designed by Apex Saunas & Wine Cellars offers wine enthusiasts and collectors extensive storage racks with curved corners and built-in display lighting as well as climate control.

* The wine room also features a new overhead fixture from Boyd Lighting.

* The wet bar is fully outfitted with an undercounter refrigerator from Whirlpool, a KitchenAid microwave oven, and a sink and faucet from Kohler.

* The 12-by-15-foot home theatre features a Stewart film screen, a ceiling-mounted Panasonic projector, and Sonance speakers.

* The utility room lives up to its name, with Whirlpool's Duet-brand laundry equipment, ironing center, and jetted (yes, jetted) sink; Lutron Electronics home control system; and a structured wiring system provided by Cutler- Hammer, part of a comprehensive electrical package designed and supplied by Eaton Electrical.

A windowless, well-insulated, and quiet basement is an ideal space for a home theater; its intimate design is well-suited to the needs of the owners.
James F. Wilson A windowless, well-insulated, and quiet basement is an ideal space for a home theater; its intimate design is well-suited to the needs of the owners.

* The home is serviced by high-efficiency, flame-retardant gas water heaters from A.O. Smith.

* To ensure the most efficient use of lighting in the basement, General Electric provided calculations and supplied a variety of bulbs, including halogen and compact fluorescent.

* Climate control devices from Honeywell enable the owners to manipulate the zoned HVAC system to save energy and optimize indoor comfort and health.

New Ways to Live Outdoors Until you step onto the terraces flanking the upper level of TNAH 2004, it's difficult to imagine the value of the outdoor spaces they provide. Thanks in large part to an innovative structural system (see page 180), the terraces enjoy deep, copper-cladded eaves over extensive areas that afford three-sided views and luxurious spaces few of the tacked-on balconies of even the largest custom homes can match.

The vast entry courtyard is multifunctional, serving as a greeting area for the foyer, outdoor party room and dining area (given its access to the kitchen), and a place to simply relax--complete with a glass lookout through an otherwise solid wall to the waterfront. It also features a pool, where exercise can mingle with reflection, as more glass panels at the south end of the pool deck provide views of the lake below.

The dock area provides the most function among the outdoor spaces. Even with a custom-made, steel-framed surround for the gas-fired kitchen and grill (complete with electrical service for small appliances), and a gas fireplace across the way to take the chill off the desert night, the dock area is still large enough for a small party of furniture. Meanwhile, the garden patio walkout from the twin basement suites delivers a distinctly urban feel ... but with the calm and quiet of the suburbs.

For all of the outdoor spaces, the design/build team sought to provide easy and multiple points of access, take advantage of the spaces provided by the structural systems and the waterfront setting, and create areas of distinction. "I think every house should have features that make it different from what's standard," says van Straten, noting examples such as the tub on the master suite terrace, one of many blurred lines between the indoor and outdoor spaces, finishes, and functions.

James F. Wilson

Product Spotlight: Copper

If its loft design and the clean lines created by its concrete structure weren't enough, the generous use of copper for the roof and terrace railings mark the home as a truly custom project. While the standing-seam copper roof delivers a thermal benefit in addition to its dramatic aesthetics, the copper "louvers" atop the terrace walls add a measure of privacy without completely blocking views. Clad over the vertical steel posts extended through the structure and welded horizontally between them and as a structural cap, the fixed copper louvers provide a transition between the mass of the concrete walls and the open sky. Copper Development Association.

Product Specs: Outdoor Amenities

* The freestanding hot tub from Hot Spring rests on the upper level balcony over the garage.

* A gas barbecue from Lynx Grills features a custom surround to create an efficient outdoor kitchen.

* More than 18,000 different cuts of stone veneer from Old Castle/APG West, washed with a thin layer of concrete from Bomanite, grace the home's exterior (and some interior) walls.

* Glass panels from Excel Glass are set into the pool and entry decks to provide views to the waterfront.

The ICF perimeter walls create a self-insulated concrete structural shell that affords maximum flexibility in the interior layout.
James F. Wilson The ICF perimeter walls create a self-insulated concrete structural shell that affords maximum flexibility in the interior layout.

New Ways to Build The New American Home 2004 was pitched to the builder as a concrete home. But the suggestion to use insulated concrete forms (ICFs) was a new wrinkle that required Merlin Contracting & Developing to research whether the foam forms would pass muster as a reliable building system and meet with the local building inspector's approval.

In fact, the builder is now solidly sold on using ICFs on future projects ... and even convinced his concrete sub to switch once he saw its efficiency in action. "It took one super and a laborer just 25 minutes to set one course, including steel, of the [2,000-square-foot] basement footprint," says Steven Jones, founder and president of Merlin.

Structural and light-gauge steel framing complement the straight lines and efficiencies of the ICF walls; factory-built chases in the webs enable mechanical runs without extra framing, while also reducing mass, weight, and raw materials.
James F. Wilson Structural and light-gauge steel framing complement the straight lines and efficiencies of the ICF walls; factory-built chases in the webs enable mechanical runs without extra framing, while also reducing mass, weight, and raw materials.

Already on a shorter-than-normal schedule to complete the home, the labor-saving virtues of ICFs enabled the walls to rise quickly while also creating an open shell, which allowed maximum flexibility in room sizes and layout and a full-span, recycled steel roof frame.

The ICFs also eliminated the plate line, an inherently problematic transition between concrete foundation walls and wood or steel framing, thus significantly reducing thermal loss. The self-insulated concrete, meanwhile, helped boost the overall efficiency of the exterior walls' thermal mass to R-50 without requiring any extra insulation. "It was 10 degrees cooler in the basement area even before we had the windows in," says Bart Jones, noting that ICFs also result in a deeper, straighter wall structure than he can hope for (or even afford) with sticks in a desert climate.

The innovative techniques didn't stop there, however. The design/build team also specified structural insulated panels (SIPs) for the roof, with the pre-insulated, oriented strand board-faced sections set between recycled steel girders of the roof frame--a process that took exactly one day to complete and was the only way to create the deep eaves over the upper level terraces. Light-gauge steel framing and a glass-mat, mold-resistant wall board complete the interior walls, making TNAH an example of forward-thinking--if not yet mainstream--structural materials.

Those systems, among other construction innovations featured in the house, also tie into van Straten's vision for the loft as a viable design and building option for more flexible and durable production housing. "The only way to combine the loft design with efficient construction is with industrialized housing techniques and systems," van Straten says, such as ICFs and SIPs. "We're not trying to change the world [with this house], but to build an awareness of materials and systems that address issues of depleted resources, durability, and longer life-cycle."

James F. Wilson

Product Spotlight: ICFs

In addition to creating perfect walls, lessening cycle time and labor costs, boosting energy efficiency, delivering built-in seismic qualities, and providing a solid, durable, and abundantly flexible exterior shell, ICFs combat what builder Bart Jones calls "monsters" in the housing industry: phantom problems and defects that threaten even the best builders. All but eliminating the possibility of mold growth and moisture damage, warped walls from green lumber drying in the desert heat, and other potential defects--while building faster and delivering a more energy-efficient house--is well worth the 3 percent to 5 percent premium the Jones brothers pay to use ICFs. "By the time you frame, fur out, insulate, sheet, or shear a wood-framed wall, you've made that cost back," says Steven Jones. The ICF system was supplied by Arxx Building Products, with support from the Portland Cement Association.

The New American Home Part I
Part II
Part IV